Cults: the smart choice

Is your job a joke? Is your love life D.O.A? Do you feel like you’re always stuck in second gear? Has it not been your day, month or even year?

It may be time to join a cult. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not crazy. I’m not.

These sometimes bizarre groups get a pretty bad rap. Existing somewhere on the rocky road between one person’s opinion and a full-blown major religion, cults often inspire scepticism and derision. Just think of the word: you might imagine daft rituals, elaborate cons and silly hats. If you’re a Hammer Horror fan, you might see Christopher Lee towering, dagger in hand, over a half-naked woman to the pulse of a tribal drum. Either way it’s sort of hard to take anything associated with the word seriously.

The Underbelly of Religion

At worst cults can be extremely dangerous. For example, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo– which translates roughly to ‘Supreme Truth’- became notorious after perpetrating the worst terrorist attack in Japanese history. Sarin was released in the crowded Tokyo subway, killing twelve and injuring some 5,500 others. The sect was linked to a spate of other incidents, often involving military grade hardware that ranged from VX nerve gas to a Russian attack helicopter. It’s pretty surprising to note that this undeniably frightening group’s philosophy was based on the usually chilled-out aspects of Buddhism.

It’s a sad fact that vulnerable people are often exploited by cults. ‘The Children of God’ was an organisation set up in the late 60s by David Berg (1919-1994). Melding ideas of free-love with Bible scriptures, this group quickly swelled in number. When Berg, known as ‘Father David’ died, the group broke down and people came forward with disturbing accounts of what went on in the communes where ‘The Children of God’ had been living. They told disturbing tales about an oppressive world of sexual and physical abuse, psychological manipulation and silence. Children born into the cult describe a brutal environment where their every move was monitored and punishment for transgressions was severe. Since David Berg’s death this religious group has transformed into something called ‘The Family International’, and if you look at their literature it is difficult to reconcile their current image with the horrifying stories of the people who left this debatably religious sect behind.

Cults are frequently linked to criminal activities such as fraud and extortion. Dodgy characters have long used religion or religious ideas to get money out of people. For example, as far back as the Middle Ages monasteries of Christian orders supposedly operated under vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. In reality they obtained vast tracts of land, taxed heavily, accrued power and generally took the mick until the Protestant Reformation in the mid-1500s. In the modern era, organisations like Scientology have come under fire for allegedly exerting pressure on their followers to support them financially.

Another Silent Victim of Demonic Cult Leaders

It’s not hard to see why cults have such a bad name for themselves. The word itself can be defined as: ‘a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members’, which falls in line with the many negative examples you can find of the phenomenon. However, it can also be said to be merely: a system of religious beliefs and ritual. The word has its roots in worship, purely, without any suggestion of excess or wrongness. It is only over time that it’s managed to gain a bad reputation. In the end, all a cult represents is a small, rather unusual slice of religion.

Religion concerns the search for the meaning of life; probably humanity’s noblest quest. The trouble is that a big idea like this search- so close to the heart of who and what we are- can be a powerful tool for unscrupulous people to attain some pretty sketchy aims. If you strip the concept of ‘cult’ back to its core meaning, it’s not a harmful thing in of itself. The leaders of said groups don’t necessarily have to have the negative traits in some of the examples I’ve described either- they don’t have to be people who’ve distorted the qualities of one faith or other to achieve their own twisted ideals- just the propagator of their own beliefs. The word ‘cult’ has many negative meanings attached, but it’s yet another unfortunate victim of people who were often very unpleasant to begin with.

Cults: A One on One Way of Thinking

It goes without saying that religious groups of any faith perform a great deal of good in the world. For example The Salvation Army– which is actually part of a Christian church rather than just a charity- is famous for its work with the homeless but is now involved in many different forms of aid. The Karuna Trust, based on Buddhist ideas, is a charity which supports disadvantaged people in South Asia. Helping out the people around you is almost universal as a feature of Religions’ core philosophies.

Spirituality can have some surprising health benefits. There’s research which suggests taking part in religious activities can extend your lifespan. It is considered by many psychiatrists to be an essential value in the make-up of a healthy mind, improving confidence and self-discipline. Spirituality can also be a potent tool for coping with extreme stress, including illness and bereavement. Meditation (which you could say includes prayer) has long been advocated as a way of strengthening the mind and calming the nerves.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many people are attracted to the major religions. For the same reasons as cults however, they have their share of detractors. The history of religion is rife with corruption, contradiction and scandal. Many people also find that they just can’t get along with certain aspects of the teachings of whatever faith they attempt to connect with: belief and spirituality are very personal things.

A cult then- being at its heart a very particular set of ideas- may be just the tonic for you if you’re seeking meaning in life. A belief system with a personal touch; a cult, for all the negativity the word drags with it ought to be a way for an individual to connect with a higher power or way of thinking in a unique way. Even if a cult still sounds like a step too far (with or without virgin sacrifice), maybe it’s worth considering the spiritual side of life. And you could always start your own.

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